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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Birth and Hurricanes

I am an information junkie.  When I was pregnant with Eddie we lived in Bastrop, a small town about forty-five minutes from Austin, and I checked out every pregnancy and birth book from the local library (I mean it, all of them).  So once I had exhausted the library's supply, I signed up for a childbirth preparation class in Austin so I could get MORE information.  I am so glad that I did, because it was there that I met Robin.  She led the class and gave out lots of good info.  More than that, though, she was really cool, another neo-hippie chick, and a doula.  I had read about doulas, or birth assistants, in a couple of books (that's what happens when you check out all of them) and I really, really wanted one.  I talked with her and let her know I was broke.  She offered her services for free, partially because she knew of Eddie's special circumstances but mostly just because she is wicked awesome like that.

Ed was due in October 2005.  The end of August brought the agony of Hurricane Katrina and, as those of you close to the coast or close to those in the storm will remember, it was followed by what seemed to be an endless stream of tropical storms and hurricanes.  Rita came toward the end of  September and there was a risk that it's ill effects would be felt as far as the Austin area.  I was in my 36th week and pregnant with a child with severe medical issues.  The idea of downed power lines, lack of utilities and hazardous roads did not appeal to me.  So I spent the weekend with my mom and family on the higher ground of Dallas.  Saturday evening during dinner I felt an odd clenching sensation in the baby's general area that I had never experienced before.  It was just the beginning, but Eddie was on the way.

I made it back down to Bastrop and my waiting husband.  The storm had shifted and our area was relatively unaffected.  We went to the hospital on Sunday, stayed a few hours, but they determined it was false labor and sent me home.  The Nurse Ratched ob/gyn was on duty.  She condescendingly told me that all first-time mothers think they are in labor when they are not and to go home, take a warm bath, drink a glass of wine, and forget about it.  Did I mention I'm an alcoholic?  And besides that, I didn't think anyone recommended alcohol in any amount during pregnancy anymore.  Sheesh.    

By Sunday night, I was certain it was not false labor and we went back to the hospital Monday morning.  They kept me throughout the day and I spent the night.  My contractions were increasing; I definitely could not sleep through them and awoke every five minutes to rub my feet together obsessive-compulsively and chant, "It's okay, it's okay" to no one in particular.  Tuesday morning a doctor I had never met before came in, propped my bottom on an up-turned bed pan and very rudely checked my cervix.  Still at 2 centimeters.  So he said he was discharging me.  I begged him not to.  No matter what Nurse Ratched said about first-time mothers, I knew I was in a lot of pain.  I was also having a ton of bleeding.  I was also having a baby that if born on the side of the road would not live to see a second day.  Eddie's heartbeat was doing weird things, like he was stressed out.  Even that was shrugged off.  Despite all my objections, the doctor said that they could not keep me and "needed the room."  

I hesitated to tell that part of the story because it is not my intention to use this blog to air old grievances or exhibit unforgiveness.  Everything went as it needed to and God's hand was all over it.  Romans 8:28 says, "and we know that God uses all things for the good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."  I believe this completely.  That doctor should not have acted the way he did, but God used his bad behavior to give me the best birth possible so it really doesn't matter.

I took the long, forty-five minute air-conditionless drive home.  It was hot.  Terribly, terribly hot and I was really, really in labor.  As soon as we walked through the door, Phillip was trying to get me back into the car.  I was out of my mind and completely unreasonable, convinced if I endured the desert-like trip to the hospital that they would just kick us out again.  I agreed to let Phillip call Robin, my doula.  He spoke to her first, then handed the phone over.  The conversations went something like this:  "Abby, this is Robin.  What's going on?  Abby?  Okay, good breathing.  Good job.  Deeep breaths.  You need to go to the hospital now."

Still, I wouldn't get in the car.  One thing about us girls in labor, we're a little irrational.  Phillip finally called a friend.  A friend with a car.  A friend whose car had air conditioning.  She came and got me, Phillip following behind in our metal firecracker.  It wasn't a comfortable trip; I still moaned and groaned, death grip on the handle above the window, but I had cool air.  When we got there, the hospital was packed.  My friend, Christine, dropped me off at the sky bridge that led to Labor and Delivery.  I walked about three feet, stopped to lean against the railing to have a contraction, walked about three feet, repeat.  I refused all offers of a wheelchair.  By the time I reached the front desk of L&D, the lady who had seen me discharged a few hours earlier saw my tear-streaked, sweat-drenched face and said, "Oh, we're having a baby now, aren't we?"

Robin, Christine and Phillip arrived armed with my birth ball, smiles, and comfort.  There was no room for me anymore; I guess that was why they "needed" my room earlier.  It was okay; I wanted to be able to walk around and bounce on my birth ball in peace.  Even though Austin is a very natural-birth friendly city, Brackenridge is not a very natural-birth friendly hospital.  I was like a martian in the hallway, bouncing away like I was at a preggy Pilates class.  We ran into Nurse Ratched while I was walking up and down the stairs, arm in arm with Robin, urging my labor along and walking me through the contractions.  She started talking to me, scolding me for not going home and relaxing as she suggested, asking about my progression, etc.  I pointedly ignored her.  Pretended she wasn't even there.  She got the hint.  I began praying that she would not be attending my birth.  It was not going to be pretty.

When I was officially admitted, there was still no room to be had.  Pregnant ladies who had been in Hurricane Rita had been transferred to Austin and it seemed that they were all having their babies that day.  I think my early delivery had a little to do with all the hurricane-y stuff; apparently they trigger labor somehow?  I don't know the science or statistics, but I know it had been a calm labor ward that morning and now it was chaos.  I was put into a recovery room with two other ladies, thin, gauzy curtains the only thing separating us.  I was assigned my nurse.  Remember me saying God's hand was all over my arguably negligent discharge earlier in the day?  I know it was because I scored Jenny, the third in my triumvirate of attending angels.  She was a natural birth advocate and an all-around fantabulous person.  With Phillip at my side and Robin, Jenny, and Christine cheering us on, it was going to be a good birth after all.

I am an extreme advocate for natural birth.  I will laud its benefits to anyone who will listen.  Let me be clear about something though:  childbirth hurts.  And I had been doing it for days.  I was staying strong, refusing all offers for drugs or an epidural, although I am sure the other two ladies in my little recovery room had ordered theirs immediately upon hearing my first blood-curdling scream.  Jenny was running interference, even taking on another shift so I would not be pressured to use interventions.  Phillip was the best coach ever, rubbing my back, giving me encouraging pep talks, listening to all of Robin's suggestions for how to help me.  I was trying desperately to get comfortable and finally ended up in a squat beside my gurney, doing a little boogie dance and chanting Sanskrit chants from my yoga video.  My sister later asked me if I had talked to Jesus about that part.  I did; He's cool with it.

Then transition labor hit and all of that oogie-boogie stuff was out the window.  I climbed up on the bed, scrambling in a blind panic.  I wanted drugs.  Any of them, all of them.  I thought this part was going to last as long as the rest had and I was having none of it.  Phillip tried to talk to me; he's lucky I didn't hit him.  He said, "Remember, this is what you wanted."  I screamed, "I can change my f-ing mind!"  Christine left to find Jenny.  I deferred to Robin, who was a mother herself and knew what I was experiencing.  She promised me that this meant we were almost there; it was almost over.  I will never forget the kindness in her eyes.  It allowed me to take a deep breath.  When Jenny arrived, I asked calmly, "Will you check me?"  Phillip still teases me about the swift transition from screaming profanities to the Pollyanna-like request.  I was at ten centimeters.  We were ready to have Eddie.

I'm not going into any of the gory details.  Suffice it to say, about thirty minutes later by beautiful baby boy entered this world.  He was wide awake at birth and extremely focused.  Robyn told me later she has never seen anything like it.  He came out giving everyone around him the evil eye, ready to kick butt and take names.  They rushed him to a sterile table to deal with his guts and begin stabilizing him for surgery.  The neonatal doctor in the room made all the students and residents clear away so that Phillip could be near and talk to Eddie.  I was euphoric.  All pain forgotten.  My baby was here.  They started to take him away to surgery in his incubator.  The ob/gyn, who was neither Nurse Ratched nor the cretin who had discharged me earlier (thanks be to God), reminded them to show him "to the lady who just pushed him out."  I had only a moment to see him, a little angry swaddled bundle, visible only from the nose up.  I said, "Hi!" and touched his precious little forehead before he was taken away.  In just that brief moment, though, I fell in love.  More deeply, more passionately, more insanely than I had ever loved anybody ever.  It was like I had been living my life with a puzzle piece missing and God slid it neatly into place.

By the world's standards, it was not a perfect birth.  It was a grueling, rather public event in a packed hospital with rude doctors.  It was chaotic, a bit like a hurricane itself.  Ed was delivered by a man who, although nice, was a stranger to me.  They couldn't hand me my baby and let me kiss and nurse him.  He couldn't "room in" with me.  It was a far cry from what I had envisioned when I signed up at the birthing center.  But I was surrounded by people who loved me and who loved Eddie.  God put everyone where they needed to be so that I would have the strength to persevere, give Eddie the best start he could have, and to do all that came next.

Christ's birth was not perfect.  There was no room for them either.  I imagine Mary never envisioned putting him in a manger, a feeding trough for livestock.  But that was God's plan for His own Son and I know that Eddie's beginning was no less ordained for him even before he was formed in my womb.  I am grateful for my less-than-perfect birth because it brought a miracle into my life and people to share in it who shined brightly in the midst of the storm.                    

               

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